This post by Gayle M. Irwin
My husband and I recently returned from a nearly 4,000-mile journey through several states as we visited friends and family. The journey brought back many memories as well as reconnections with people I hadn’t seen in many years (more on all that next week). Some of the memories stirred included thoughts on the four-footed friends I had, especially when I was a child growing up in Iowa.
Winding through the roads of the Midwest (Nebraska, Missouri, Arkansas, and a touch of Iowa) stirred the senses and the heart. From seeing great blue herons in ponds to listening to red cardinals chirp in trees (and I don’t mean the St. Louis baseball team, although we all chirped for joy when the Cards beat the Brewers 7 to 1 on the Friday night Greg and I sat in Busch Stadium!), my mind and heart drifted back to childhood days in and around Burlington, Iowa and the animals that impacted my life. Those impacts helped shape me into the person I am today: an appreciator of nature and a lover of animals, especially pets.
My first pet was a calico cat named Precious. She was a stray that followed me home as I walked from my friend Shelly’s house. I was seven years old, Precious was about three months old. My father disliked cats but because I could be cagey and precocious as a youngster (I am an only child afterall!), Precious became a member of our household, a role she had for the next 10 years.
My very first dog was a pup from a litter my dad’s German Shorthaired Pointer Lil had. Sadly, most in that family were sickly when born, and Whitey, as I named the skinny white with liver-colored spotted runt, only lived a few years. But, during the short time we shared, we ran the fields and forests of our Iowa property, chasing butterflies and lightening bugs together.
When I was 16, I chose an 8-week-old German shepherd mix puppy as my canine companion. I adopted her with money I’d earned from chores done on the farm and at the house, as well as helping my aging grandmother at her home in town. I named the honey-colored, curly-coated dog Bridgette. She was my constant companion during the remaining years in Iowa. We explored the hills, feed the flocks of chickens, ducks and geese, and rested in the shade of hickory and cedar trees. When my parents and I moved to Wyoming in 1978, Bridgette helped calm my nerves with her tranquil presence as I entered a new school system (and a much bigger one!) during my senior year of high school. I became a busy college student and our walks together became less frequent, but my dear mother stepped in and filled my shoes as Bridgette’s human companion. When my parents moved to Montana, Bridgette went with them, and when I would occasionally visit, her forgiving, kind spirit welcomed me back as if I’d not deserted her. We explored the mountains of Montana near my parents’ home for the next several years, and today, her bones are buried on a striking vista overlooking the Bitterroot Valley of western Montana, a place she, and my parents, dearly loved.
The joy I received from those animals of my childhood stuck with me through adulthood, encouraging me to continue sharing my life with pets. Since those early days of canine and feline companions, I’ve experienced delight with other pets, including Sam, a cocker spaniel who shared my life from 1989 to 2000; Ama, a long-haired orange tabby who became princess of the household, reigning from 1999 to 2006; Sage, the blind springer spaniel Greg and I adopted after our marriage and whose life inspired me to write books and short stories; Cody, the cocker spaniel who came to us as a nearly 10-year-old and lived to be nearly 18; Bailey and Murphy, whose mother was a feral cat but who accepted help from our rancher friends in order to give her kittens a better, more stable life than she had – these sisters will be 11 years old next month; and Mary, the springer/cocker mix who helped Cody live to be as old as he did just by sharing the house, the couch, and the cabin with him (and us humans) – and who braved the recent 4,000-mile journey that’s refreshed and replenished my special pet memories.
It is through gratitude to all these animals who have touched my heart and life in such magnificent, beautiful ways that I wrote “Lessons from Dogs – A Tribute” which is published in Memories from Maple Street USA: Pawprints on My Heart, released last week by Sundown Press. Although Sage and Cody are the main focus of my short story, I wrote it with all my pets in mind, as well as the animals I’ve known through family and friends. I’m honored to be part of this publication, and through it, as well as my other stories (such as those found in Chicken Soup for the Soul and the ones published in Prairie Times) and books (like Walking in Trust: Lessons Learned with My Blind Dog, Sage Find Friends, and Sage’s Big Adventure) perhaps I can impact the lives of pets, and those of people, for the better. Education and inspiration are the goals of my writing as well as to make a positive difference for pets and people, including adoption and rescue. For truly, pets adopt and rescue us when we adopt and rescue them. Animals, when we let them, certainly do leave pawprints on our hearts and upon our lives. I know mine surely have!
Gayle M. Irwin is an author, writer, and speaker who enjoys sharing about the human-pet bond. She writes inspirational pet stories for children and adults. She is the author of six books, some for children and some for adults and families, and is a contributing writer to six editions of Chicken Soup for the Soul. She is also one of the writers featured in Memories from Maple Street USA: Pawprints on My Heart, released last week from Sundown Press, with a story about the positive life lessons dogs can epitomize. The book is available in both e-format and print format. Learn more about this new publication at http://sundownpress.blogspot.com/2016/07/new-release-memories-from-maple-street.html. Learn more about Gayle and her writing and speaking endeavors at www.gaylemirwin.com.